IN: Reviews

Live Enchantment at the Gardner



Angelo Xiang Yu, recipient of both an Avery Fisher Career Grant and a Lincoln Center Emerging Artist Award in 2019, garnered First Prize in the 2010 Yehudi Menuhin International Violin Competition. The local favorite joined the Shanghai String Quartet last summer. We will miss his frequent recitals here since he will be moving to China. Pianist Feng Niu is in much demand, given her musicianship and collaborative skills, which are widely appreciated—especially by Yu.

So, imagine the delight of experiencing an in-person concert wafting through Calderwood Hall at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum at Saturday’s Foundation for Chinese Performing Arts concert of Mozart and Beethoven sonatas. Yu projected warmly infectious joy to those lucky 80 who obtained tickets. His synergistic partnering with amiable and eloquent pianist Niu resonated not only with the venue but also with the general audience mood. The sonata partners also radiated the glow of the recently affianced.

Mozart’s Sonata for Piano and Violin, no. 18, in G Major K301, apparently took inspiration from works of the slightly older but contemporaneous composer, Joseph Schuster. Known for its historical importance in achieving full collaboration the two instruments, the sonata is also sunny and playful, with two lilting allegro movements which well suited Yu’s virtually flawless delivery. The first Allegro con Spirito movement begins with an amiable melody in the violin, which is then transferred to the piano, with octaves in transition to the second theme, and beyond. The second movement, with its lyrical, waltz-like rondo, concluded all too quickly. Yu’s expressive face and prancing feet pair with a deceptively effortless technique that strongly transmits emotion.

Beethoven’s Sonata for Piano and Violin Opus 12 Number 1, in D Major exudes vitality from the start, with its first four in-unison measures and incisive rhythm. After that first fanfare, the violinist dominates, and exchanges of melody with many runs and provides pulse—which with a lesser duo might reduce the work to feeling like a train coming in and out of a station. But Yu and Niu infused the movement with balance. The second Andante con Moto movement has a pleasant hymn-like statement followed by four contrasting variations. This stunning sonata concludes with a shared and intense, yet optimistic rondo.

Mozart’s Sonata in E Minor K 304, written shortly after the death of his mother, is said to reflect his grief. The doubling of the violin and piano parts, and the repetition of the theme were subtly conveyed by the artists, creating an ominous, inevitable aura. The duo conveyed this more subtly than many. The second movement, a poignant—even heartrending—minuet seems unique in the literature. Yet, it transitions to a second theme that evokes resolution and acceptance, both together encapsulating its bittersweet message. Yu and Niu shone in Mozart’s only minor-key duo sonata.

I have had the pleasure of hearing several performances of Beethoven’s Opus 24, F Major Spring sonata within these last welcome weeks of lifted restrictions, this one and another performance, live, the rest online. Such repertoire choice and subsequent listener approbation come as no surprise; rebirth and hope remain integral to our cultural recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. And while Beethoven had nothing directly to do with Opus 24’s posthumous moniker, it seems more than appropriate these days. The couple drew out the bittersweet and touching phrases with delicacy, polish and aplomb, in a version perhaps lighter than some but with the composer’s coherent melodic linking inherent throughout.

The gifts of coloration Yu achieved on the 1715 “Joachim” Strad on loan to him inspired our publisher Lee Eiseman to ask a noted cellist and chamber music coach in the hall to supply the technical name for the special pleading inflection he heard, especially in the second movement of the Spring.“No, there is no technical term for that effect said Paul Katz, but your phrase, ‘special pleading inflection’ is perfect. Of course, Angelo possesses an enormous vocabulary of colors and effects. But what makes him so great, is the absolutely artistic way he uses technique to project emotion. That’s something we can’t teach.”

The enchanted audience encouraged—and obtained—a beautiful encore, Kreisler’s delectable adaptation of Glὓck’s “Melodie: Dance of the Blessed Spirits” from Orpheus ed Euridice. Afterwards, concertgoers liberated from masking crowded into the venue’s corridor to congratulate the artists for an evening to be treasured.

The Foundation for Chinese Performing Arts, founded in 1989 through the hard work and continuing vision of Dr. Cathy Chan, will celebrate pianist Russell Sherman’s 91st birthday on Saturday, June 12th, with a live concert at the Gardner by renowned pianist, Marc Ponthus. If I am in town, I will certainly go—and if not, will attend online.

Amateur pianist and long-time music aficionado Julie Ingelfinger enjoys day jobs as professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, pediatric nephrologist at Mass General Hospital for Children and deputy editor at the New England Journal of Medicine.

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